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Jan 9, 2011 07:43 AM

Learning about "Pho Stock"

To all, I am trying to learn to make Vietnamese Pho. Last week, I hadgot hold of some fresh rice stick noodle. I tried this following recipe:

but the stock didn't come out quiet right. It smelled similar to those from the various restaurants I have been to, but it did not taste quiet right. For one, it wasn't salty enough. I then added more salt and fish sauce, but it still did not taste right.

This weekend I tried this recipe with a slightly modification. I added a lemon grass.

The overall recipe is really similar to the last one. Again, it smelled correct, and it tasted a bit closer, but still not salty as I remember it. I then doubled the salt and fish sauce. Now, it tastes much closer. I think the lemon grass help a lot to bring in that sour taste. So I have two theories:

1) the recipes used by various Vietnamese restaurants simply have more seasoning and salt than home recipes, or

2) these two online recipes I have are simply more subtle and delicate than the norm.

For people who grew up eating Vietnamese Pho at home, do you find the restaurant version more savory and more tasty? Or do you think they are just about the same. Thanks.

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  1. [quote]the recipes used by various Vietnamese restaurants simply have more seasoning and salt than home recipes.

    I don't think it's a function of home vs. restaurant, but how do you like your food seasoned.
    For 2 gallons of liquid, I'd say the second recipe is short on salt and sugar, and possibly fish sauce.

    You're basically making beef stock with asian spices. When I do mine, I start with a base recipe similar to the two above, then add salt, sugar and fish sauce as needed as the process goes along. Unless you have a TNT recipe that you have seen made or tasted, you'll need to do that process on any blind new recipe.

    If you are happy with the spice levels and flavor intensity and stock consistancey, then you are 90% there. Then adjust salt, sugar and fish sauce intensity to suit.

    I'd also suggest trying to find a local restaurant that serves a good Pho and use that to guage changes you need to make in your own stock, That's the process I used and it worked magnificently.

    Just because recipies are on the interwebz doesn't mean they are fully sorted or TNT.

    You're on the right path and just need to dot the i's and cross the t's to get that restaurant quality end product.

    Heck, I even do Pho takeaway a few times a month and for a few lower end Vietnamese restaurants in town I have to doctor up thier stock to get it to my taste levels by adding sugar, fish sauce or a pinch of ground star anise.


    2 Replies
    1. re: jjjrfoodie

      Thanks JJJrFoodie. I do try local Vietnamese restaurants quiet a lot. I tried them from Bay Area California, to Los Angles California, to Georgia, to Utah... etc. They all taste slightly different, but they are also not all that different. Let's say they all taste stronger than mine. That is for sure. Yes, you are correct. These recipes I find online may not be fully sorted which is my theory number 2. Thanks for your response.

      1. I've tried quite a few recipes. Most recipes I've tried seemed to be bland compared to restaurant stocks. However, the recipe from "Steamy Kitchen" turned out the best so far.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dave_c


          Thanks dave.
          I never thought to roast the ginger and onion to carmelize but I'll do it next time.

          I always found the goal of pho broth is to have an underlying beef broth flavor that is then balanced with the flavorful spices and has sweet/salty/sour balance.

          I have used lemongrass stalk as the OP listed, but also found a squirt of lemon or lime juice in the broth at time of serving adds a bit of sourness to balance the sweet. Too much star anise overwhelms as does too much fish sauce.

          It really is a fine line to walk. I;ve also used beef base or chicken base to make the stock as opposed to doing a bone and meat style correct/traditional stock with good results albeit a short-cutted kinda cheating one. LOL.

          It's a process that when nailed correctly, brings giddy screams of joy in the kitchen.


          1. re: jjjrfoodie

            Pho in Hanoi is pure beef flavor, with some spices for aroma, and it has elements of sweet/salty/sour, but nothing that you would call a balance of sweet, salty and sour. I think of that as more of a goal in Thai cooking. My family doesn't add sugar at all.

            The first time I had pho in Hanoi, I swooned, and my dad agreed that it was the best pho anywhere.

            1. re: jjjrfoodie

              Thanks Dave. I have seen other recipes for roasting the onion and ginger as well. It will definitely give it a different flavor. The lemon grass is used in some of the recipe I read online and I have talked to some owner of the Pho restaurant and they say they use them. Now that I doubted the salt and fishsauce and added lime (at the end), the broth really taste much closer to how I remember it from various restaurants. Thanks.

          2. Lemongrass is just not done. ;) Sour is added by squeezing some lime at the end.

            1. yes, very most probably.

            2. there are different styles of pho! and "clean" and "delicate" is one style. This style is not mucked up with too many different spices; I've seen recipes that call for cardamom and fennel seed, which I'm not sure even grow in Vietnam (in any case, they are unusual.)

            Yes, I've always found pho broth in restaurants to be tastier, but I usually attribute that to restaurants using more beef to make their broth (I guess my mom is cheap because I've never seen her buy bones for pho) and the fat content is much higher.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jaykayen

              :) Yeah, I do that too a couple of slice of lime, cilantro, bean sprout...., but I figure that I have never ever used lemongrass before, so I gave it a try. Your reply is very helpful. I didn't know there are many style of Pho. I guess I just kept having the same kind from various restaurants.

              P.S.: Yes, after buying all the marrow bone and oxtail, I realize it is not cheap to make the stock -- not even close and time is very length. I spent about 6 hours on average just for the stock and that is really the only thing. Afterall, I bought the fresh noodle, so there is not much else.

            2. It is not the recipes that are the problem, or even lack of salt or seasoning per se.

              The issue is one of time, or lack of it on your end.

              Most Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho, at least the good ones, nurture their pho broth essentially without end. They start a pho broth, and simply add bones to it and keep it on a gentle simmer for, essentially, like forever. The heat on the pot is never turned off (yes, even when they shutter for the night -- it's kept on a gentle simmer).

              This long nurturing process gives a body to the broth that you simply cannot achieve at home by just making one pot from scratch - no matter what recipe you are using.

              It's not a recipe issue, but rather an issue of systemic process in how the broth is started (e.g. like a sourdough starter) and then nurtured until full maturity.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Yes, I suspect that she needs to cook it far longer and also to reduce it at the end.

              2. Theres also the question of mouth feel.
                I picked up some take-out pho a few days ago. The broth was separate from everything else. I ate about half and popped the rest in the fridge. Next day, the broth had gelled and was the consistency of soft jello.
                So theres alot of collagen in there. giving it that unctious, silky mouth feel. So lots of correct bones and a long simmer is definitely needed.

                1 Reply
                1. re: porker

                  Don't worry mine turns into jello in refrigerator for sure :) Thanks for making sure.